from dad

Dear Katy and Kenzlee,

As I sit here this morning preparing for a sermon, it is just past 6:00am.  I am at a coffee shop reading scripture and thinking about some of the most basic and important things in my life.  Your faces beam at me on my computer screen.

My prayer for you is that you realize, at some point in your lives, that the most important thing you can commit yourselves to in your life is serving God.  It will draw your life beyond immediate things or even your own lifespan and into eternity.  From this perspective, you will be able to find and see the eternal worth of persons, the scope of God’s purposes in the universe and even among us, the beauty of God’s creation, and the fragility of each moment and each life.

There is nothing more rewarding and more fulfilling, in the long run, than serving God and seeing life from this perspective.  To find it, you will need to have moments when you can be alone with God, in the silences, and take in the wonder and grandeur of seeing your own lives in this perspective of things.  God knows each hair on your head, and God knows and lives throughout the waves of energy, light, and space that stretches out into eternity.  And, in those moments, you will know and feel how God knows and always thinks of you.  I know my love for you and my affection are both a sign and gift that God gives me because it is God’s own love and affection for you.

As I prepare for a sermon today, I know, somehow, God cares for me and the people I’m going to worship with today in the same way.  Each worship service is a sacrament of our love for one another, shared in Jesus Christ.  What makes Jesus special is that his life, death, and ministry is the promise that all that we sense, believe, hope for, and marvel of in ourselves and each other can become real.  Jesus was the full bloom of God’s eternal love and purposes in one life.  We learn who we are and can be through him.  The love God had for Jesus came true in his life and purpose, even amidst confusion, misdirection, and tragedy.  I, too, feel and hope that the love I feel for you can come in full bloom in you – that you will grab it, grasp it, and pay it forward because it is just a small piece of God’s love that lives in me and so want to give to you.

I love you more that I can say.  I’m thinking about you today, as I prepare for this day, in scope of all things God has for us.

You are the miracle of my mornings.

Love, dad.

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Christianity Can’t Compete

2725050979_26ba7a5a1e_mHow can Christianity compete in a world that offers up so many promises and ways to escape?  Can a life of discipleship really compete with the endless stream of distractions that bombard us daily?  So many promises at such a low low price.

I confess: After work or after church, sometimes I do go to Burger King just so I can “have it your way.”  I mean, my way.

We live in a culture that exploits the very meaninglessness it produces.  I’m not trying to be negative or pessimistic, here.  Just honest.  I know so many who are secretly lonely, struggling with depression, or unable to accept who they have to be in a world where you have to pay to play.   While we’re being told our potential is unlimited, we’re forced to play the game.  We give ourselves and energies to so many demands and projects – which carry some reward of success and accomplishment.  Secretly, we have to take the paycheck to pay down our debt, which paid for the house or the education or credit cards that buy back our self-worth and sense of self-esteem.

How is Jesus’ cross meaningful in a world like this?

One mistake we make is to let the cross become less and less real and more and more spiritual.  Christianity becomes a message we tell ourselves to stave off the feelings we really feel or what others are saying.  Everything is fine.  God is good.  Grace abounds.  No big deal.  I’m OK.  Praise God?

Stop to think that we live in a world that can even profit on widespread depression.   In this kind of world, belief in Jesus can also become something its not.  It can quickly become something else that wards off the emptiness we accumulate by selling ourselves to a world that is supposed to value us so highly.  This is a world where you have to live for yourself in order to be anybody…or do anything.   When its at its worst, like Tylenol, Jesus on the cross becomes something we swallow to take away the pain of feeling insignificant or guilty.

If this is all Christianity is, there are better alternatives.

Just turn on the TV.

1254274220_74c7802ae2_mChristianity tells a story about suffering.  The suffering of God.  You might see why this isn’t so popular.  Or, perhaps it is, because someone else is doing the suffering.  What sense can this story make to us in the “free world?”   A free world almost “free” of anything long-lasting, but where everything has a price?

What’s the meaning of the story of a God-man, a Rabbi born a carpenter, who was driven out of church by church folk?  What does it mean that religious leaders, the ones who had the most to loose from seeing things his way, wanted him dead?   What, possibly, could this guy have been teaching?  What’s the meaning of the God-man and his suffering?

Suffering.

You know.  You have to be a Christian to even care about this story.  Either that, or you have to care about the meaning of suffering.  Or, perhaps this is what is universal about it, you have to at least know your suffering.  Once you’ve felt this, you care about the suffering of others.  Perhaps, you have to suffer to really appreciate what anothers suffering might mean.  Even the God-man’s.

So, what’s the point of this?  I’m raising questions, that don’t have shallow or easy answers.  At least, I dont’ think they do.  These questions also hold the key to something hopeful and life-giving.  They hold untold meaning.  The questions are more healing and productive than closing them up with simple answers.  But, at the same time, what makes for faith doesn’t have to be complicated.  Christianity, I think, thrives amidst people who know struggle because suffering reveals something about the universe that nothing else can.  it calls for faith precisely where life’s depth intersects with its simplicity.

The cross calls out for the end of all suffering.

Now, do you believe it?

On the cross, God’s justice and love speak their final word into a world that profits on its own meaninglessness, that entraps us in our own need to escape it, and is dizzying with its attractive alternatives and technical distractions.  Despite the way some seem to think, in this environment the cross doesn’t point us to a new and improved doctrine of self-righteousness.  “Biblical” religion does not thrive on its own righteousness and people’s shame.

To that, I offer a biblical Christianity where love and grace are one in the same.

This is what I think:  To open our eyes to see and ears to hear, without numbness or distraction; to open ourselves to our own persistent loneliness, our own sense of helplessness or depression; to feel our need for either closeness or escape; to see our dependence on distractions; to open ourselves up to our own suffering, we open ourselves to a whole new world – one in need of a savior.

602041238_a9f18c5800_m1Once you’re there, in the bottomless space of a moment of suffering, you know the simplicity of a deep faith.  You are never again alone in the story.  You know why he came.  You know why we, the religious people, ran him off.  You know why those who benefited from the way things were wanted him dead.  You know why, by constantly changing, things can still remain the same.

Christianity can’t compete.  Enemies and opposition are good for politics.   Formulaic faith, both judgmental self-righteous versions and guilt-free spirituality, make for excellent religion.   They fit well with what we need.   Meaningless is a demanding, but profitable business.

But, love and justice, who needs that?

PostScript to Elgin: The Passion of the Gospel

I accepted an assignment to give two sermons yesterday at Elgin Community of Christ, one at the traditional service and one at the contemporary.  Elgin congregation is a warm and growing community.  It’s a congregation I admire because of their commitment to venture out into new territory with God, worship, and ministry.

After preparing two sermons this past week, I felt convicted to abandon my notes for both sermons yesterday.  Instead, I felt led to speak from my soul – risking all my imperfections and idiosyncrasies.  It was a vulnerable experience for me.  But, I didn’t realize it until both sermons were over.  I spoke from the passion I feel for the Gospel.  In particular, I tried to get at the promise and the challenge that the Gospel always presents to us as a dynamic and living Word.   I’m still prayerfully reflecting about all I was feeling.  Last night, I even had a vivid dream that I was inside a huge new motor home barreling down the road that I was struggling to control!

If I’m honest with myself, I can’t hide how real the Gospel is to me.  I can’t hide how much I’ve needed God before, how vulnerable I really feel most of the time, how fragile I think love and hope really are in our world, and how I’ve experienced God’s Love wash over me and completely change me.   It’s difficult to hide the passion I feel for the Gospel because, for me, both the hope of salvation and the Kingdom come together in ways that are so real.  For me, they never come separately.

And, the need for both in the world haunt me.

The longer I live, the more I realize that accepting Jesus and his prayer –  “thy Kingdom, Come” – is not something accepted once and for all.   Baptism marks the beginning of a life of conversion. This conversion is not limited to some religion, belief system, or moral code.  Baptism is the beginning of a new life and prayer – “Thy Kingdom, Come” – and living into the possibility of that Kingdom in Christ each new day.  Confirmation is the promise of the Holy Spirit as a companion on this daily walk.

Sometimes, I wish the passion I felt for the Gospel – its fullness, felt through both the promise and challenge that come simultaneously – was something I just made up.   Maybe, someday I will discover that this understanding of Jesus and the Kingdom is just some relative interpretation, something that came to me out of my life’s circumstance.   Maybe, I’ll learn that someday.

But, that’s not how I experience it.   The Good News and challenge of the Gospel is not how I have come to the Gospel, but how the Gospel has come to me. When God comes to me in my life, this is how God’s Word interprets me. My life – its purpose, short-comings, and value – are all put in perspective.  My deepest aches and inadequacies are mended and I am left with the passion to give the Love and Hope that I’ve been given – and to wrestle with that all my days.

As I spend time with scripture, I am convinced (cf. Romans 8:38-39) that this challenge of the Gospel and the promise of its salvation always come together – as one.  I don’t know how Christ’s salvation and the challenge of discipleship can be separate.  I believe this is Paul’s relentless message of Christ: putting on the mind of Christ, becoming the new creation and the coming of the new humanity.

If Jesus is any example, living the Gospel is not tidy.   It is fraught with challenges – some from within church, some from principalities and powers, even from those closest to him (Peter’s denial; Judas’ betrayal; James and John desire to be the greatest among the disciples).

Despite appearances, the life of discipleship is not a life well-scripted.

Reading the scriptures with care, we find evidence everywhere.  Faith in God comes with struggles and challenges.  But, God answers those struggles with a heart filled with passion.   This passion, God’s passion – the passion at the heart of Gospel – is exactly what we need to feel and believe. We don’t need all the answers.  Not perfect vision.   Not a perfect record of right decisions or the perfect program or inpenetrable finances.  But, passion.  Passion for the promise and challenge of the Gospel – Christ and the Kingdom that comes in him.